Shift Work Diet:

Is There A Perfect One?

If you’ve ever been on a diet before, then I’m sure the words Fat Free, Sugar Free, Weight Watchers or even the Juicing Diet may be familiar to you?

Either way – the options are endless!

Given many shift workers endure ongoing weight fluctuations as a result of a disruption to our appetite regulating hormones ‘leptin’ and ‘ghrelin’, the temptation to sign up for yet “another diet” can almost be too much to resist, particularly if diet number 14 didn’t work!

So is there another one to add to the list?

One which is perfect for those working 24/7, and appropriately called ‘The Shift Worker Diet?’

Well as a Nutritionist, I have to say first and foremost I’m not a fan of diets in any way shape or form.

My dislike for the term “diet” or any type of label stems largely because of its association with feelings of restriction, deprivation and exclusion of certain types of foods, when we really need to redirecting our focus towards including more things into our diet, rather than excluding them.

Most diets want us to remove some type of macronutrient, whether that’s protein, fat or carbohydrate, but our body needs all three. The term “macro” actually means we need to eat a lot of it, but it needs to incorporate a nice balance of all three (together with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals), in order to maintain optimal health.

Your body is also instinctively designed to ferociously defend weight loss (think survival of the race here), so if you’re not nurturing it with wholesome, nourishing foods you run the risk of becoming deficient in certain nutrients, and your body will hang on to whatever reserves you have.

So let’s forget about the whole weight-loss thing for a minute, and instead focus on nourishing and supporting three key areas of your body which are particularly vulnerable to circadian rhythm dysregulation as a result of working 24/7:

  1. Gastrointestinal system – shift workers are prone to gastrointestinal complaints such as peptic ulcers and leaky gut due to irregular eating habits and circadian misalignment. Foods which provide minimal burden on the digestive system include soups, smoothies, juices, broths and slow-cooked casseroles.
  2. Immune system – sleep deprivation reduces important immunity cells called T-cells, whilst increasing inflammatory cells in our body called cytokines. Protein is an excellent immune boosting nutrient as its needed for our cells to grow and repair. Foods high in protein include eggs, almonds, chicken breast, oats, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, lean beef, quinoa and lentils. Low iron status can contribute to anemia and a weakend immune system so foods high in iron such as meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and cruciferous vegetables can be really beneficial; as are probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi and kombucha; citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, capsicums, guavas, broccoli, berries, and papaya; ginger and garlic.
  3. Nervous system – shift workers are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, otherwise known as sympathetic nervous system dominance making them much more vulnerable to stress and burnout. Foods to calm and support a frazzled nervous system include asparagus, avocados, berries, cashews, chocolate (yay!), garlic and oatmeal.

So let’s forget about all of the fad diets out there. No matter how amazing they may seem, at the end of the day, they’re just another diet.

Instead, lets focus on supporting your gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems with nourishing, whole foods which is what your sleep deprived body needs the most!

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x



Gunnars, K 2017, ’20 Delicious high-protein foods to eat’, Authority Nutrition.

Bollinger T, Bollinger A, Oster, H, Solbach, W 2009, ‘Sleep, Immunity and Circadian Clocks: A Mechanistic Model’, Gerontology, vol. 56, no. 6, pp. 574-80.

Petre, A 2017, ‘Foods that can boost your immune system’, Authority Nutrition.

Shift Work and Our Immune Systems:

Why A Healthy Gastrointestinal and Lymphatic System Is So Important.


As shift workers we often push our bodies to the absolute limit, and unfortunately our immune systems get knocked around as a result.

Considering 80% of our immune system is found in the gut, it’s important that we support and nurture our gastrointestinal system because it acts as important barrier against pathogens – those nasty little micro-organisms which can cause disease.  In other words, it helps to protect our body from the outside world.

Unfortunately, continual disruption to our sleep-wake cycle as a result of haphazard rosters, actually weakens the lining of the gut, impairing our ability to fight off infections.  It also reduces important immunity cells in our body called T-cells, together with increasing inflammatory cells called cytokines.

Probably something your employer forgot to mention at your job interview – lol!

And not only are we running on limited sleep, but its often disjointed as a result of that nasty alarm clock which wakes us up at the most ungodly of hour!  This prevents the body from completing the recommended 4-5 full sleep cycles which allow it to rest, restore and rejuvenate.

So how can we strengthen our immune system, despite working 24/7?

There are many ways to do this, but these are my Top 2:

  1. Focus on Nurturing A Healthy Gut – As Hippocates, the founding father of modern medicine, so famously said:  “All health and disease begins in the gut” which is why it’s imperative that we support and nurture our gastrointestinal system.  This includes ensuring there is a healthy amount of gut bacteria or gut flora, which can help in the regulation of an immune response.  One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring your diet contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables containing dietary fibre, also known as prebiotics, which is essentially the food for our gut microbes.  In addition to plenty of dietary fibre and for an added boost, you can also alternate taking a broad-spectrum probiotic, which is a high strength multi-strain formula designed to provide beneficial bacteria to the entire digestive tract.
  2. Provide Support to Your Lymphatic System – the lymphatic system is our waste disposal system and is made up of glands, lymph nodes, the spleen, thymus and tonsils.  This system aids the immune system by removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, and other toxic substances by moving it along in the lymph fluid into your glands.  This explains why our glands become enlarged when we are sick.  Rebounding on a mini-trampoline is a great way to improve the flow of lymph through the lymphatic tissues, together with ensuring you’re drinking enough water because dehydration prevents the flow of lymph fluid.

Of course, it’s important to remember that it’s OK that our bodies have to fight an infection every now and then.

It’s what it’s designed to do, which is why taking antibiotics continually is not a good thing because not only does it wipe out our good gut bacteria (goodbye immune system!), it’s not allowing our body to do what it’s supposed to do.

Whilst we don’t want to get sick, we do want to ensure our body is as resilient as humanly possible, in order for it to be able to fight an infection when it does come up, as opposed to being reliant on drugs and medication, which often come with nasty side-effects.

Audra x



Scrivens, D 2012, ‘Rebounding:  Good for the Lymph System’, Wellbeing Journal, vol. 17, no. 3

Wu, H & Wu, E 2012, ‘The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity’, Gut Microbes, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 4-14.